San Jose Nicholas Kristof did a column in the Times in his usual didactic, rah-rah fashion trumpeting the happiness of Costa Rican people (http://bit.ly/6i0csw). He cites a couple of different “surveys” where Costa Ricans self-evaluate and cobbles this together with the point that in 1949 the government shutdown its army and investigated more in education subsequently, including additional language skills. Maybe, though any column that seems more written for the Costa Rican Tourism Bureau and to expense out a personal vacation on the Times tab makes me skeptical.
Ask me I and I think there are a couple of other pieces to this puzzle.
For one in an economy where tourism is a central driver, the real key to happiness for workers is the fact that they weld on an automatic 10% on all purchases at restaurants (while the country benefits from tourism exploitation by adding 13% for itself, which is smart too). The tips are pooled among the wait staff which produces decent professional staff without people being subservient to the little bit extra from the tipped economy. Furthermore from what my shaky Spanish could determine, wait and similar staff are still paid what passes for the minimum wage as well as the special “solidarity” pay which is an end of the year bonus that is part of the legal framework for workers. If a country is going to allow tourism to be a huge economic driver, guaranteeing tips will produce big time happiness!
As usual in Kristof’s touting of the virtual unmitigated benefits of globalization he advertises for how wonderful it would be to have more English speaking ex-pat communities throughout Costa Rica who could benefit from the emphasis on the educational systems requirements for additional language training in schools. Hmmm. Might be worth paying some small attention to what the “happy” Costa Ricans are saying about this as well. Nobel Prize winner and current Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was quoted recently about how Costa Ricans have “lost Tamarindo” the beautiful Pacific Beach area that has now been overrun by tourists and upscale second home developments. Costa Ricans have been pushed out of the area by hotels, condos, and soaring prices outside the reach of the Ticos who have lived along these coasts as fishers and framers for generations.
The “green” piece of Costa Rica’s marketing is mainly just that along the intentions and rhetoric are good, and certainly good enough to make Kristof happy. Seeing a sign on the ferry to the Nicoyan Peninsula that said “recycle now” along with a big arrow to the huge garbage can said a lot to me about the state of the current practice. The national parks also seem to be pricing out Ticos and their own patrimony in many areas. Talking to Costa Ricans there is a huge fight to not pave roads to places like Playa Manzilla and even the Monteverde area with its famous cloud forest in order to keep tourists out.
Kristof’s continued blind advocacy of “dollar diplomacy” is not a prescription for the future happiness of the Costa Rican people, though as usual he could probably find a way to be happy as a pig in stuff as long as he enjoys his drive and windshield survey of the world.uaran